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Book 60: Chapter 3: Double-Splendor of Sepal
‘In front of the Hua E Lou [sepal (multi-story) building, see last Chapter], the spring is thick, willow fluttering in the breeze, catkins dancing in the clear sky.’
The full name of the Hua E Lou was Hua E Shuang Hui Lou [sepal double splendors building], located at the southwest corner of the palace. It was built on the sh.o.r.e of the Long Chi [Dragon Pond], with the three-story building in the middle, and a corridor connected it to the other two building complexes, called Hui Bei and Hui Nan [splendor north and splendor south, respectively], two courtyards.
Acting as the host, Li Shentong and Li Nantian took the opportunity to take them to the Hua E Lou, on the way, they led them on a tour the lakesh.o.r.e.
The difference between Xing Qing Palace and Taiji Palace was that due to the existence of the Long Chi, the buildings did not stick to one pattern. Large buildings are mostly located at the north side of the palace, while the south side was the garden area with Long Chi as the center. The lake area was several qing [unit of area, about 6.67 hectares or 16.5 acres], oval shaped. The flora included lotus, water caltrop and all kinds of aquatic gra.s.ses. The school of fish swam freely in the water, which was abundant with vitality.
The Chen Xiang Ting [Chinese eaglewood (Aquilaria agallocha) Pavilion, again, see last Chapter] was located at the eastern end of Long Chi. It was constructed of agarwood, surrounded by peonies, of many different kinds of variety – all around. Sitting in the pavilion was like being in the ocean of peonies.
Upon reaching the Hua E Lou, they were welcomed by w.a.n.g Xuanshu-led Flying Clouds Guards, standing in formation in front of the main building. w.a.n.g Xuanshu was born in a prominent family and thus he was familiar with court etiquette, he knew how to behave appropriately.
Li Shentong spoke cheerfully, “Flowers [hua] are compounded with calyxes, calyxes [e] are compounded with flowers, flower and calyx [hua e, which together mean sepal] are reflecting each other. This is Shaoshuai’s temporary imperial residence in Chang’an. The people in the palace have strict orders not to set foot in the building and palace hall area even for half a step. The closest access for Shaoshuai to come and go is the Jin Ming [golden brightness, it was Qing Ming in the last Chapter, not sure if they are the same] Gate. Out of the gate and turn left is Guangming [light/radiance] Street and the East Market, very convenient. There is a horse corridor next to the Jin Ming Gate, as long as Shaoshuai gives your order, there will be horses and carriages for Shaoshuai’s convenience.”
Li Nantian added, “The court banquet for Shaoshuai will be held at the Taiji Palace Hall at the beginning of xu hour [7-9pm] this evening. Qin w.a.n.g will personally come to welcome Shaoshuai into the palace for the banquet.”
After the two men left, Kou Zhong laughed and said, “Turns out being the Great Tang’s state visitor is so prestigious.”
Ba Fenghan showed the first hint of smile since seeing Fu Junyu, he spoke indifferently, “This is called the gift of the monarch. Li Yuan is the northern monarch, and you are the southern monarch stepping across the Yangtze River.” Sweeping his gaze across the crowd of their-head-high, their-chest-out Flying Clouds Guards, he said, “How about I test their skill and along the way show them a thing or two?”
Hearing that, none of the Flying Clouds Guards did not reveal excited and happy expression on their faces.
Kou Zhong knew that he wanted to vent the pain in his heart by stretching his muscles and bones, he laughed and said, “Nothing is more welcomed than that, how could I dare to oppose? Let’s turn the South Courtyard Garden into a military drill ground and play his Niang’s several rounds.”
The sound of clas.h.i.+ng weapons lingered on faintly.
Ba Fenghan was naked from the waist up, on the gra.s.sy lawn surrounded by the trees of the south courtyard, he exchanged pointers with the crowd of the Flying Clouds Guards
Kou Zhong came and sat down next to Xu Ziling sitting on the stone steps in front of Hua E Lou’s south gate, watching from the sidelines. He said, “Luckily we have Li Shentong as the liaison, otherwise we will lost contact with Song ErGe and Lei Jiuzhi. Our brothers are arriving bit by bit, they are establis.h.i.+ng their presence outside the city in the secret lair that the Huang He Bang’s Laoda [boss] Tao Guangzu arranged. Ma Chang also arrived last night. According to him, everything went without a hitch. We only need about ten days or so, then the uprising can begin.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “What is the situation of our troops stationed outside the city?”
Grabbing his head with both hands, Kou Zhong said, “That is the difficult problem that gives me a headache. Stationed in the Forbidden Park north of the city is an army unit of fifteen thousand men, which can quickly support the Xuanwu Gate and the Tang Palace. We used to count our chicken before they are hatched, thinking that we could gather our troops in Hanzhong, pretending to be the troops looking for a gap to enter the Pa.s.s and to Chang’an via Shu, but now, of course this plan won’t work. Could it be that on one side, we are murmuring endearments [idiom: getting into a romantic relations.h.i.+p] with Li Yuan in Chang’an, but on the other side we fight him with saber light and sword shadow? One day we cannot find a way to deal with this army unit, as long as Li Yuan lights up the fire beacon on the smoke and fire platform of the Taiji Palace, this army will come and disturb, we will surely suffer calamity, definitely cannot avoid it.”
Xu Ziling asked, “Who’s in command of this army?”
Kou Zhong replied, “This man is called Tang Jian, a trusted aide, great general who has followed Li Yuan for many years, even Li Shentong does not have the confidence to persuade him.”
While Xu Ziling was knitting his brows in deep thought, w.a.n.g Xuanshu came to report with grave expression, he spoke in low voice, “Changlin Army’s Ke Dazhi Jiangjun is asking for an audience. He insists on waiting for Shaoshuai outside the Hua E Lou’s door.”
Kou and Xu, two men felt things happened so suddenly, only then did they understand why w.a.n.g Xuanshu had that kind of expression. If Ke Dazhi came to visit an old friend, naturally he would not refuse to step into the building even half a step like this.
Xu Ziling was about to stand up, Kou Zhong pressed him down and said, “Let me go and see him alone. If I have a falling out, you may have a chance to remedy it.”
Xu Ziling revealed a bitter and astringent smile, both boys knew in their hearts that the road ahead would be harder and harder to get by.
Ke Dazhi was standing proudly on the plaza outside Hua E Lou, he stared without blinking at Kou Zhong coming over towards him, his expression gave and grim. When Kou Zhong arrived in front of him, Ke Dazhi said coldly, “Why are you guys coming to Chang’an?”
Kou Zhong was a little afraid to meet his pressing gaze. Taking two steps forward, he came to his right side, so that the two men’s faces were less than a chi apart, but their eyes were running in opposite directions, they cast their gaze to the other side. Sighing, he said, “If only I can give you a satisfactory answer, ay! Your Great Khan Xieli is a.s.sembling an army north of the border, invasion is a matter of days, how can I, Kou Zhong, simply sit and watch?”
Ke Dazhi spoke heavily, “Why can’t you just sit and watch? You can reap where you have not sown even more. This time our army is coming not to clash with you, Shaoshuai, yet Shaoshuai insists on getting involved. Shaoshuai clearly knows that you are doing the most stupid thing and without a doubt, a self-destructive behavior?”
Kou Zhong sighed secretly in his heart, Ke Dazhi had this kind of thinking, simply because of differences in family background and where he was coming from. On the prairie, various tribes have fought each other for thousands of years, the weak are prey to the strong, destruction and annexation happened continually. For Ke Dazhi, Li Tang was like a powerful tribe, and Kou Zhong was like the leader of another tribe. Kou Zhong sticking his head out for the Li Tang was like he was being nosy in the struggle between the other two tribes. This kind of idea, which had its origins in the prairie, was deeply ingrained in Ke Dazhi’s mind, no matter what he said, he wouldn’t be able to explain it clearly.
Ke Dazhi continued, “Now you still have a chance, get out of Chang’an immediately, when we attack Li Tang, you will move your troops to Luoyang and divide up Li Yuan’s world. At that time, whether we will fight or make peace, it will be up to both sides to decide.”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said with a wry smile, “Brother! Please forgive me for not being able to obey your order.”
Like a whirlwind Ke Dazhi turned to Kou Zhong; reaching out to grab shoulders forcefully, and twisting him so that they were now face to face, his pair of eyes shooting harsh light, he spoke angrily, “Is your head made of stone? How could you be this stubborn? Do you know that you are doing the most unwise foolish thing? In Chang’an, you guys absolutely have no chance. Not only do we want to get rid of you in a hurry, but Fu Cailin and Ge Suwen are also wholeheartedly wanting to put you to death. Li Yuan and Jiancheng have bad intention toward you guys even more. No matter whether you, Kou Zhong have three heads and six arms, at present, everybody can see that you are courting disaster. Do you think Li s.h.i.+min can protect you? If you do, then you are a big idiot! Li s.h.i.+min is powerless to defend himself. With Li Yuan’s support, Li s.h.i.+min is like a meat on the chopping block, just waiting for Jiancheng to slaughter him. The difference in power between the enemy and us is just too far apart. Considering that you still think of me as a brother, immediately go back to Liangdu for me, Ke Dazhi.”
Kou Zhong spoke dejectedly, “I really can’t do it, against Dazhi’s good intentions.”
Ke Dazhi let go of his hands grabbing Kou Zhong, which pain penetrated his heart and spleen. Taking a three-step back, the murderous intent in his pair of eyes flaring greatly, he shouted sternly, “All right! Starting today, we are no longer brothers.”
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “Whatever you say won’t make any difference, brothers will always be brothers. His Niang’s! Why can’t different nations coexist peacefully? The prairie is yours, for you to crisscross as you please, why do you want to turn the Central Earth into another prairie that you can trample on at will? We have developed different cultural systems. Any invasion of one side to the other will only be catastrophe and disaster. I, Kou Zhong can pat my chest to guarantee that after the Central Earth is unified, we will never repeat Yang Guang’s mistakes. Being brothers is so much more fun than being mortal enemy, right?”
Ke Dazhi spoke heavily, “That is just your, Shaoshuai’s wishful thinking. History has told us that this road is blocked [idiom]. Since ancient times, conquering the Central Earth has become the highest hope in the hearts of every soldier in the prairie. This is reality that no one can change. The Central Earth becoming powerful is our disaster, it has been like this since history, it’s nothing that will change because of you, Kou Zhong, also the truth that every nation, every warrior of the gra.s.sland understands, hence the power of the prairie is a.s.sembled under the Great Khan’s leaders.h.i.+p. No one, including you, Kou Zhong, can influence the contract of alliance between us. If you are tactful, then get out of Chang’an, our military operation is not targeted at your Shao Shuai Army.”
Kou Zhong changed to Tujue language, “About that Liexia kid, do you care or not?”
Obviously his use of Tujue language evoked the memory and the brotherhood feeling of fighting side by side in Ke Dazhi’s heart, the harsh light in his eyes melted a little, he was slightly startled. After quite half a day, he smiled wryly and said, “What’s good to be cared about? The person in Xiufang Dajia’s heart is neither me, Ke Dazhi nor Liexia at all, but you, Kou Shaoshuai. It was she who personally revealed it to me.”
Staring blankly, Kou Zhong said, “Unexpectedly there is such thing?”
Ke Dazhi said, “I don’t want to talk about these things that have become a thing of the past for me!”
Kou Zhong spoke dejectedly, “But do you know that I went to see Xiufang Dajia just now, but I was refused outside the door?”
Knitting his brows, Ke Dazhi said, “That can’t be true?”
Kou Zhong said, “Am I, Kou Zhong someone who would lie to his brother?”
Ke Dazhi spoke with determination, “You and I are no longer brothers. By coming to Chang’an, you and Ziling show clearly you don’t consider me, Ke Dazhi worthy in your eyes. I need to trouble you to inform Ba Fenghan that if he wants to challenge Shengzhe [the holy one, the saint] he must first pa.s.s me, Ke Dazhi, this barrier, other things are nonsense. As long as any one of the three of you can defeat me, Ke Dazhi, only then will I not care about this matter, otherwise any challenge to Shengzhe will be followed by me, Ke Dazhi. Is Shaoshuai clear? All brotherhood feeling, love and hatred between men and women, under the major premise of the honor and disgrace of the nation and the warriors, have become insignificant.”
Kou Zhong felt a big headache, his mood could not be nastier than this even more. He was about to speak, the sound of footsteps rang out. A Tujue warrior wearing Changlin Army informal uniform came hurriedly and spoke to Ke Dazhi in low voice, “Dong Guifei’s [imperial concubine] personal carriage has just entered Jin Ming Gate.”
Ke Dazhi cast his gaze towards Kou Zhong, the tone of his voice returned to indifferent and tranquil, he said, “Shaoshuai, please consider Ol’ Ke’s proposal carefully.”
Finished speaking, along with his man, he disappeared into the depths of the thicket.
The sound of the hoofbeats and the wheel from a distance was coming near, escorting by more than a dozen imperial guards, the gorgeous carriage carrying Dong Shuni appeared on the horse lane, driving in the direction of Hua E Lou.
Ba Fenghan came to the sitting-on-the-stone-steps-with-blank-expression-on-his-face Xu Ziling and sat down by his side; looking at the packing-their-weapons-bows-and-arrows Flying Clouds Guards, he praised, “These men, none is a weak hand, they are considerably not bad.”
Absent-minded, Xu Ziling replied, “They were personally selected and trained by Kou Zhong, they shouldn’t be that bad.”
Ba Fenghan spoke indifferently, “Ziling, what’s the load on your mind?”
Xu Ziling asked back, “You don’t have any load on your mind?”
Ba Fenghan revealed a bitter and astringent smile, he said, “I only know that the most important thing before my eyes is the decisive battle to determine victory or defeat with Bi Xuan before I am willing to let this matter drop. Other things, I have no time to pay attention to.”
But then he changed the subject, “Who is Shaoshuai seeing?” he asked.
Xu Ziling spoke in deject, “Ke Dazhi.”
Ba Fenghan cast him a glance, but he said nothing.
This moment Kou Zhong came out of Hua E Lou and sat down on Ba Fenghan’s other side, “Dong Shuni is here,” he spoke nonchalantly.
Ba Fenghan asked in surprise, “Don’t you need to greet her?”
Kou Zhong said, “The one the biaomei [younger female cousin via female line] wants to see is the biaoge [older male cousin via female line], it’s none of my Niang’s a$$ business.”
Looking at his expression, the two men immediately knew that he must have been reprimanded by Dong Shuni, hence he felt greatly embarra.s.sed; furthermore, they understood that he was treated coldly by Shang Xiufang first, hence he could not bear being angered by another old lover.
“What good thing did Ke Dazhi say?” Xu Ziling asked.
Kou Zhong sighed and said, “What good thing can be talked about? He is extremely dissatisfied that we came to Chang’an like this, and urged us to leave Chang’an immediately, otherwise we should not blame him for not thinking about the feeling of brotherhood. In his heart, we are sticking our nose in the matter between them and the Li Family.”
The cold light in Ba Fenghan’s pair of eyes lit up, flashed, and exploded brightly; letting out a cold snort, he said, “Then does he want to stick his nose in the matter between me and Bi Xuan?”
Kou Zhong spoke dejectedly, “Lao Ba, you really understand him. He clearly stated that unless one of the three of us can defeat his Wild Sand Saber, you, LaoGe can forget about meeting Bi Xuan.”
Unconcerned, Ba Fenghan laughed instead, he said, “This kid’s thought is so thorough. Knowing full well that you two don’t have the heart to kill him, he is forcing me to make my move, so that I would refrain from shooting at the rat for fear of breaking the vases, afraid that one-in-ten-thousand chance I would be wounded and lose this once-in-a-thousand-years golden opportunity of the decisive battle against Bi Xuan.”
Knitting his brows, Xu Ziling said, “Ke Dazhi does not look like someone who would play this kind of scheme, I am afraid Fenghan misunderstood him.”
Ba Fenghan calmly said, “Tell me frankly, do you guys have the tiniest confidence that after killing Ke Dazhi you would be able to retreat without the slightest bit of damage?”
Kou Zhong shook his head and said, “That is absolutely impossible; without a bit of sacrifice, how could it be possible to put him down? One thing goes wrong, he will slaughter us instead. His granny’s bear, Lao Ba, your a.n.a.lysis is very true, Ke Dazhi has changed from brother to enemy, the most dreadful enemy. Because all of us have been brothers, we have deep understanding on each other’s behavior and conduct, therefore, with just a few words, he made us, three men cannot make our move to challenge Bi Xuan. And the most terrible thing is that Bi Xuan’s honor or disgrace is related to our victory and defeat against the allied forces from beyond the Great Wall.”
A danger sign appeared in Xu Ziling’s heart. Not only the situation outside Hua E Lou was dangerous, but Ba Fenghan and Kou Zhong also made him feel danger, because he clearly captured Kou Zhong’s murderous intent against Ke Dazhi.
Kou Zhong said to Xu Ziling, “Brother! Successful is called the king, defeated is called the bandit. To win the final victory, so that everyone can go back alive and meet the person they most want to see, other than abandoning the saber, we must not have anything else. For the sake of the world, for the sake of Lao Ba, even more, for you and me, I have no other choice, I simply have to bring the relations.h.i.+p with Ke Dazhi to an end.”
Smiling wryly, Xu Ziling said, “My only hope is that the end would be a rather pleasant one.”
Ba Fenghan spoke heavily, “We understand how Ziling feels, but inside the City of Chang’an, there are mult.i.tude of enemies, few friends [idiom from Mencius], as the one falling in the inferior position, we absolutely cannot afford to make the slightest bit of concessions.”
Shaking his head, Xu Ziling said, “However, we are, after all, human beings with flesh and blood. In some things, we cannot disregard the consequences.”
Kou Zhong pondered silently for a moment, he nodded and said, “Ziling is doing me good, because even if I can kill Ke Dazhi, afterwards, I will regret it for the rest of my life. Although I can use all kinds of excuses to absolve myself, but one knows one’s family affairs, someday I will take troubles to heart [idiom].”
Knitting his brows, Ba Fenghan said, “In that case, wouldn’t Ke Dazhi become our deadlock, preventing us from defeating Bi Xuan and thus shaking the unity and morale of the allied armies from beyond the Great Wall and adding more dangerous variables during the uprising?”
Kou Zhong said, “LaoGe, don’t worry, I will exchange injuries with Ke Dazhi, and then compete with him to see who would heal a bit quicker. Not only Ke Dazhi cannot stop you from challenging Lao Bi, perhaps it might also make the enemy mistakenly believe that I was badly injured and had not recovered, so they would launch their invasion ahead of schedule; one move, two gains. Ha! This is called mountain and river exhausted [idiom: nowhere to go], doubting there is no road, the willow trees make the shade, the flowers give the light [idiom: at one’s darkest hour, a glimmer of hope], there is another village ahead.”
Staring blankly, Ba Fenghan said, “This is indeed the best strategy under the current circ.u.mstances; it takes into account our relations.h.i.+p with Ke Dazhi even more. However, in the world, only Kou Zhong and Xu Ziling are qualified to do this, because no one else knows the Secret to Long Life.”
Kou Zhong said, “Therefore, the time to challenge Ke kid must be grasped accurately, it must be carried out after our deployment is completed.”
Xu Ziling felt gratified in his heart, because he no longer felt Kou Zhong and Ba Fenghan’s murderous intent toward Ke Dazhi. Otherwise, momentary slip might result in lifelong regret. Even if due to the development of the situation in the future they still could not avoid deciding life or death with Ke Dazhi, but at least they have tried their hardest.
Kou Zhong gradually recovered from the blow that came one after another from Shang Xiufang and Dong Shuni, “That girl is coming to see Xuanshu, I wonder if Yang Xuyan prompted her?” he wondered aloud.
Ba Fenghan shook his head and said, “Melon patch under plum tree, avoid suspicion [short form of ‘Don’t tie your shoelaces in a melon patch, and don’t adjust your hat under a plum tree’; idiom: don’t do anything that might arouse suspicion]. Dong Shuni is Li Yuan’s personal pet, how could Yang Xuyan see her as soon as he wants to, and instruct her to do this and that?”
Kou Zhong slapped his forehead and said, “I am muddleheaded. In that case, Dong Meiren should have not forgotten her origin, therefore, not only she had big quarrel with Yang kid because of w.a.n.g s.h.i.+chong’s death, but she was also willing to receive Ling Longjiao. Just by looking at how happy she is coming to see her Biaoge, we know that Li Yuan extremely dotes on her.”
Xu Ziling said, “We can learn about her from Xuanshu later.”
Kou Zhong was about to answer, a subordinate came to report, “Reporting to Shaoshuai, Xiufang Dajia is asking to see Shaoshuai. Subordinate has arranged for her to wait at the Shang Hu Ting [Lake Appreciation Hall] of the Hua E’s north courtyard. Shaoshuai, please bestow your appearance.”
Kou Zhong immediately became a foolish-headed bird, it was quite a long time before he let out a long breath. He sprang up and said, “I will immediately go to see her.”
Looking at his back as he followed his subordinate walking away, Xu Ziling sighed and said, “The barrier of love is hard to pa.s.s, our Kou Zhong Shaoshuai not only has to face the most dangerous and difficult situation, but also has to deal with the debilitating [lit. liver and intestines about to split] love between men and women. I hope he can hold out.”
Ba Fenghan’s pair of eyes shot an overwhelming-sadness expression, smiling bitterly, he said, “The barrier of love is hard to pa.s.s, who can avoid it?”